As the producer, what was the inspiration for Centrespread (1981)? How did it begin?
In 1978, I began working with Newfilms in Adelaide, which was a production company owned by Justin Milne and Geoffrey Simpson. I learned my trade production managing documentaries, corporate films and commercials. Geoffrey and I constantly talked about making a feature film together. On one of our productions, we hired Michael Ralph and Robert Fogden to design our sets. It turned out that Michael had a desire to work on a feature film and that he and Robert were both budding writers. Sometime in 1980 I left Newfilms to set up my own production company, Australian Film Productions. I pitched a story line to Michael about an aspiring model who finds stardom but then is forced to choose between career and love. 2 weeks later Michael came back with a screenplay which showcased beautiful models and was playful, romantic and positive. Geoffrey Simpson agreed to shoot it. The problem then was how to finance the film?
I prepared a budget, trying to keep costs down, it came out at $80,000. Then coincidentally I was invited to give a speech at a Rostrum breakfast club. I prepared a humorous speech about sex and life, which had them laughing. Then I told them I needed $80,000 to make a film, called “Centrespread”. Two of the club members came up to me afterwards, Ross Davies and Terry Clark. They said no worries, we will raise the money for you, sounds like fun. Ross Davies was a SA celebrity, he ran fitness studios and had a segment on a kids’ afternoon television program, the Channel Niners. Terry Clark was an insurance salesman who had many affluent clients. Four weeks later they deposited $80,000 in my bank account. I was amazed, it all happened so quickly. That night, I remember putting on the theme to “Rocky”, and imitating Sylvester Stallone, I ran up and down my hallway punching the air. It was a miracle!
Robert Fogden and Michael Ralph are credited with the screenplay. Who came up with the original story? Were you uncredited?
Michael and Robert were the writers, I didn’t know how to write scripts at this stage, I had graduated from University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and this background helped me to produce, as financing and budgeting came to me naturally. But Michael turned out to be a born storyteller, he had a vivid imagination, and later went on to write and direct his own films.
It mustn’t have been hard work casting the nude models at the Gold Coast. One could be cynical about the whole exercise today. But it was the 80s…
It was amazing, everything you would imagine. I was crazy about girls so this was a dream come true. In the late 1970’s, I had briefly leased the Trak Cinema in Burnside (Adelaide) and during that time got to know Greg Lynch, a distributor from Melbourne. He came on board Centrespread as an Executive Producer, giving me a cinema distribution deal and $10,000 to travel around Australia to cast the models for the film as a promotional event for the movie. I literally went from state to state interviewing beautiful women. Of course, it was not all plain sailing. In Hobart, Tasmania’s Attorney General, Brian Miller, attacked me in the Mercury newspaper, accusing me of corrupting Tasmanian girls and alleging that my production company was not properly incorporated. I immediately called a press conference and refuted both accusations. The AG had searched my company’s incorporation details on Victorian and Tasmanian registers, however my company was correctly incorporated in Adelaide. He immediately looked flaky for not carrying out due diligence. The nationwide search resulted in fabulous publicity for Centrespread, not only in Tasmania, but also a front page photo in the Australian and a segment on a current affairs television show in Brisbane.
What exactly was the budget – give or take a thousand? There are differing figures speculated on the net…
As I mentioned earlier, it was only $80,000. However, I later went back to investors and gained a further $20,000 to cover reshoots. I know in some supposedly reputable journals, it was suggested the budget may have been $600,000.
Director Tony Paterson worked as an editor on Fantasm Comes Again (1977) and Mad Max (1979). Was that why he was chosen? It appears he was in Adelaide editing The Survivor (1981) around the time of Centrespread…
Yes, I had been searching for a director, I had approached Scott Hicks, who was relatively unknown then, and John Duigan, but both were unavailable. Then Greg Lynch, a good friend of Tony Paterson, suggested I catch up with Tony while he was in Adelaide. He was an AFI award-winning editor for Mad Max and was interested in directing. Tony offered me a deal in which he would direct, edit and do the sound mix for the film for a relatively small fee. I agreed, it seemed like a good fit at the time, particularly considering our small production budget.
He obviously worked economically – too much so because he didn’t shoot enough footage! The running time became a real headache I understand…
Once I committed to Tony we started to work closely together. His first suggestion was to rework the script, which he undertook to do for nothing. He came back with a completely revised story. It was no longer happy, carefree and contemporary, instead dark, dystopian and futuristic. I had doubts, but thinking he may know about filmmaking than I, agreed to go ahead. It was the beginning of my troubles.
How long was the original shoot? And were the reshoots expensive?
We shot the film in 3 weeks in and around Adelaide. Our main studios for interiors was an old abandoned wool shed in Port Adelaide. During filming, a few of the crew alerted me to the fact that Tony was maybe not covering the scenes fully enough. When we completed editing the film, it turned out they were right, the film ran just over 80 minutes and including numerous still photo montages to fill gaps. I was dismayed as was Greg Lynch. We jointly decided we would have to do some reshoots and that they would not be done by Tony. Tony was naturally disappointed by our reaction, he felt he had done a good job. I guess Greg and I were both expecting a commercial film, Tony had created an “artistic” film with a dark edge. I approached John Ruane, he was in the early part of his career, and had worked with Greg Lynch in various roles. Greg thought highly of him. John agreed to write some more scenes for the film and direct them. I raised extra investment of $20,000 from our backers and we carried out two weeks of reshoots in Adelaide with Kylie Foster, Paul Trahair and other members of the cast. I was really pleased with John’s approach and we edited them into the final film.
Were you happy with the casting of the relatively inexperienced Kylie Foster and Paul Trahair in the leads? Foster has a certain naivety and their performances are well judged…
I had Kylie in mind from early on to play the lead role. She had come to a casting session in Sydney and was well known for her role as “Belinda Phipps” in Skyways, a television series made by Crawfords, broadcast on the Seven Network. We got on well, she was playful and sweet, comfortable with her sensuality, and she was what I regarded as a marquee name, considering our low budget. When Tony came on board as director and rewrote the script he had another actress in mind for the role. We clashed over this, but on this occasion, I put my foot down and insisted on casting Kylie. In retrospect, it is always a difficult situation when a producer and director disagree on cast. I can understand from Tony’s point of view he wanted to work with someone with whom he felt an affinity and whom he felt “aesthetically” suited the part. I wanted Kylie because she was a proven actress with television broadcast credits and in my mind, suited the part. Tony cast Paul Trahair, I think he was a friend. I met Paul and liked him, so on this point we agreed. Both Kylie and Paul turned out to be great to work with.
The film opened and then disappeared which must have been very anti-climactic. No pun intended. Who distributed it? Did it open overseas at all?
Once we added new scenes directed by John Ruane, Greg Lynch arranged a cinema release through his theatrical network. We received strong coverage in Cinema Papers, including a front cover image, and a huge photo spread in Penthouse. The film opened in Canberra, it was part of a deal with Greg’s new distribution partner. The film was attacked in the press as exploitation and in New Zealand angry feminists poured concrete into cinema toilets in protest. I was embarrassed at the time as I felt the film was not what I had originally intended. It left me with a valuable lesson, that when you hire a director you basically hand over the film to a person who may have different aesthetics and ideologies than you. It left me psychologically scarred for some years and was only erased when I finally produced, wrote and directed Maslin Beach in 1996, completely under my control.
The other consequence was that the poor showing at the box office resulted in my company being bankrupted. This also caused me great pain and humiliation. I felt I had let down the investors who had so generously supported me. I felt sad for them, many of whom had become friends. During the bankruptcy proceedings, I was almost killed when driving toward Melbourne in the early morning with the sun in my eyes (or perhaps tears), when I accidentally misjudged the end of the South-Eastern freeway (which was still under construction) and ended up driving at 100 km on the wrong side of the road. Suddenly I was confronted by a car driving at the same speed in the opposite direction on the same side of the road. Luckily, with only seconds to react, we both swerved in opposite directions, just missing each other. My car rolled 3 times, just near the town of Murray Bridge. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the other driver was incredibly kind, however my car was a write off. I had survived death by a whisker, who said making films was fun!?
As an experience, how do you rate Centrespread now? It was your first time as a producer. I get the feeling you blocked it… I know you’ve seen it recently. Is it still a “problem child”?
For a long time, I disowned the film and refused to put my name in the credits as producer. I had effectively lost control of the film and my “voice” had been compromised. On the positive side, Greg and I remained friends and I’ve had long productive friendships with John Ruane, Geoffrey Simpson and Michael Ralph. Although Centrespread did not turn out as expected, I had “become” a feature film producer, a long-held ambition. And, I had learned important lessons. I set up a new production company, Australian International Pictures, and I have spent the past 40 years producing, writing and directing feature films, television series and documentaries. It has been great fun, no regrets.
But it was certainly a revelation when Jeff Harrison contacted me in February 2018 and said Umbrella Entertainment was interested in releasing a Blu-ray DVD of Centrespread in Australia and New Zealand. I met with Leon O’Regan in Melbourne in June 2018. His infectious enthusiasm for Centrespread as an “Australian classic” was inspiring, and only then did I start thinking more fondly of the film.
Continue this interview with Wayne Groom on The Dreaming and PRESS HERE.